Congressman Bill Owens introduced legislation this week that aims to boost the North Country's maple syrup industry.
The Democrat from New York's 23rd Congressional District says the Maple Tapping Access Program of 2011 will increase maple syrup production and promote economic development across the region.
Owens says the bill, which is co-sponsored by Vermont Congressman Peter Welch, provides local maple syrup producers with the necessary tools to expand business and create jobs.
"It is critical to upstate economic development that we give local agriculture leaders the tools they need to thrive," he said, adding that there is an abundance of maple trees in the region.
"This bill will help to open up previously untapped resources for area maple producers, allowing them to expand operations and hire locally," Owens added.
Supporters of the legislation say the TAP Act authorizes some $20 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture grants, allowing states to encourage owners and operators of privately-held land to expand sugaring activities.
Grant funding would also support maple-related research and education in the North Country, Owens says.
Critics say the potential economic gain doesn't warrant spending millions of federal dollars.
But Owens says the U.S. currently imports far more syrup than it produces, noting that only one in every 250 trees is tapped domestically.
A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate late last week by Democrat Charles Schumer.